Bhastrika pranayama – Bellows in English; gets the name from being similar to an iron smith’s bellows and how they sound and the way they force air onto a fire or furnace to make it heat up hot and fast. Practicing Bhastrika pranayama can do the same to a person’s internal fire or metabolism.

In Bhastrika pranayama, the student will go through a series of fast and forceful breaths with the focus on the exhalation setting the pace and pattern for the practice. In the beginning, the student will only be able to comfortably do a few breaths, but as they study and practice, endurance will build and they will be able to maintain a longer practice.

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The beginning stage of Bhastrika pranayama

-Sit or stand in a good pranayama position

-Take a fast and strong inhale and immediately exhale fast. This is one cycle of Bhastrika pranayama.

As you practice multiple cycles, you should have a pattern to your breaths; a quick fast inhale and as you let go of your inhale you should feel a fast compression in your diaphragm, almost like a snap, as you go into the exhale. Once your pattern becomes uneven or you feel resistance or hang-ups in your breath, it is time stop and rest. You may also feel light headiness due to the increase of oxygen and CO2 in your system during Bhastrika pranayama. This is also a sign to stop and rest. Short, intermittent rests can be done in your pranayama position with calm, full breaths until you feel your stamina return.

-Lie in savasana and rest when you are done

The intermediate stage of Bhastrika pranayama

In the intermediate stage of Bhastrika pranayama, you can start to use alternate breathing techniques with your practice.

-Sit or stand in a good pranayama position

-Cover your left nostril with your pranayama finger hold. Take a fast and strong inhale through your right nostril and immediately exhale fast as in the beginner practice; this is one cycle. Do 8-12 cycles inhaling through the right nostril then switch to the left and do 8-12 cycles.

As you do your practice with each side, try to pay attention to the subtle differences on each side. The quality of your inhale, resistance from swollen sinus, resistance in your lungs, the temperature of your inhale, and look for a difference in the taste and feel of the air as you exhale.

-Lie in savasana and rest when you are done

As the Bhastrika pranayama gets longer, the body will start to generate higher levels of heat and the metabolism will run faster. It is similar to the physical foundations of Tummo yoga where the student heats up the body with forceful exhalation breath, but in Tummo yoga, much more visualization on energy centers and psychic heat is usually practiced. Since Bhastrika pranayama creates heat in the body, it is better practiced in cooler times such as wintertime or in the mornings when the temperature is low. Like all pranayama, it is better to be practiced after yoga asanas.

Bhastrika pranayama is not for everyone and precautions should be taken by students while practicing. Bhastrika pranayama is best learned from an experienced person, which can be quite hard to find in most places. Our bodies are designed to run and work at a certain capacity and speed. Bhastrika pranayama increases this capacity and speed, and it can be healthy and cleansing to run our bodies at a high rate sometimes, but we must always make sure not to create stress on it, which can lead to damage. The student must start out slow and always keep a feel for their body’s capacity and subtle signs and hints of stress. With extra time in calm breathing rest, reflection and savasana, the body will have time and energy to integrate the changes and growth.